Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fall Season Finale

To end the fall migration season on a high note, BSBO hosted the Inland Bird Banding Association's (IBBA) annual conference. More than 60 participants came from as far away as Minnesota and Texas to join us for this regional bird banding event. On Friday evening BSBO's Executive Director, Kimberly Kaufman, kicked off the festivities with a presentation about the Observatory's many research projects and education and outreach programs. Many thanks to BSBO's Birds & Business Alliance partner, OurGuest Inn & Suites, for hosting Friday night's opening activities.

Saturday morning's activity was a banding workshop at BSBO where several nets were opened to catch birds for banding, teaching aging and sexing techniques, and overall sharing of information and knowledge among the participants.
In the picture above, Julie West (gray jacket), a BSBO research volunteer, shares her knowledge and expertise with fellow banders. Julie operates a banding station at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, a partnership project with BSBO.  White-throated Sparrows (WTSP) were the most numerous species banded for the morning. Fifty-seven birds were caught with 3/4ths of them being WTSPs. We did capture a Lincoln Sparrow (LISP) which was a treat for the crowd.

Saturday afternoon featured indoor presentations, hosted by our gracious partners at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The presentations covered banding results in Illinois, Foraging and Territory Size in Veery in mid-Michigan, Tennessee Warbler Stopover Ecology in the southern Appalachian Mountains, and Birdlife International's Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Bruce Peterjohn, Chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL), gave an update on what was happening at the Lab. The presentations provided many thought provoking topics for the group.

The day ended with a superb banquet provided by BSBO Birds & Business Alliance partner, Taste Your Food, LLC.  Keynote speaker, John Tautin, retired Chief of the BBL, presented an interesting and informative program on the first 100 years of Bird Banding.

Hats off to BSBO's Research Director Mark Shieldcastle, who, along with the assistance of some of BSBO's fabulous volunteers, did a fine job in organizing this conference. Here he is, out standing (and outstanding) in his field!

Sunday featured a field trip to the Navarre banding station. Thirteen folks arrived at the banding station at 9 AM to see that the Observatory volunteers were already hard at work processing the first round’s catch. Can you believe we only netted one WTSP the first round?! (They made up for it later.) We did capture some special birds including an American Woodcock (AMWO), Yellow-shafted Flicker (YSFL), Brown Creeper (BRCR), Carolina Wren (CARW), which some never get to see), and fifteen Fox Sparrows (FOSP).

The Carolina Wren was a good example of differences in perspective. Here, in northwest Ohio, they are common enough that some take them for granted. But to visitors from Minnesota and northern Michigan, the bird was a real celebrity!  A CARW in northern Minnesota would light up the rarebird alert like a Great Gray Owl would here. It was a great reminder that even our more "common" birds are worth appreciating.

The day’s efforts resulted in 102 new birds and 10 recaptures.  According to our data, one of the recaptured WTSPs had been hanging around for the past two weeks. We suspect that the weather forecast for week's end will "push" some of these reluctant migrants along on their way.

CAUTION: Gratuitous Fox Sparrow Photo!

Another great opportunity was sharing the techniques we use at our banding station with students from Northern Michigan University. The professor from Northern Michigan University was pleased to give his students some hands-on training before they start their own banding station in the near future.
Here are a couple of the students in the banding station studying their field guide. Also pictured is BSBO volunteer, Cliff Hoyt (seated).

The trip to Navarre was a great way to cap off a wonderful weekend. Many thanks to all the volunteers and the BSBO staff who put much time and energy into this conference! And, speaking of thanks…

The 2010 fall banding season resulted in one of the highest total number of banded birds (for the fall season) in the history of the project and the volunteers did outstanding work to see that everything went smoothly. Our sincere gratitude to all of you for your great efforts and we look forward to working with you again in the spring; it will come sooner than you think!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spectacular Sparrows for the First Half of October

October is the month for sparrows as they begin invading the marsh as a part of their annual southerly trek. The week has tallied ten species of sparrows including Eastern Towhee (EATO), Chipping (CHSP), Field (FISP), Fox (FOSP), Song (SOSP), Swamp (SWSP), Lincoln (LISP), White-throated (WTSP), White-crowned (ECSP), and Dark-eyed Junco (SCJO). This week the Song Sparrows  arrived in good numbers while White-throated Sparrow numbers continue to build. When looking at sparrows, certain field marks are important to observe such as head pattern, length of tail, streaked or plain breast, etc.

Here are four species we captured at once:

Left to right: WTSP, SOSP, WCSP, FOSP

Backs of the four species:
Left to right: SOSP, WTSP, FOSP, WCSP

Here's a tricky sparrow to ID in the fall. 
We'll make it a quiz bird and see if you can work it out:
Can you resist the urge to scroll down right now for the answer?!

And here we have the first for this fall season, and the official BSBO Bird of Winter, the American Tree Sparrow (ATSP.
We usually do not see or band an ATSP until late October or early November. It's a beautiful sparrow with its bi-colored beak and breast spot.

Here are a few highlights from the past week:
This is a male Rusty Blackbird (RUBL) with its rusty-edged iridescent plumage. By spring it will have worn off the brown edgings and will be sporting a sleek iridescent plumage. RUBLs are similar in size to Red-winged Blackbirds and have a yellow eye.

We've banded quite a few American Woodcocks (AMWOs) this fall, with major flights in late September and again the past couple of days. This one decided to show us its flexible bill which is used for probing the soil and grabbing worms and invertebrates.
Isn't that just the coolest thing?!
The AMWO has eyes positioned close to the top of the head allowing it  to watch for predators while foraging for invertebrates.

And finally, our quiz bird is an
immature Chipping Sparrow (CHSP).
The bill will darken and the black eyeline will become more distinct. While immature sparrows are not easy, some give a hint of their adult plumage.

There aren't likely to be many more pleasant fall days left, so we encourage you to get out as much as possible and enjoy all the wonderful fall migrants.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Observatory's Ohio Young Birders Club!  Thanks to the generous contributions of people from all over the country, the students raised more than $3100 during their Big Sit fundraiser on October 10th.  Many thanks to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge for allowing us to place the count circle alongside the Auto Tour route. This wonderful spot helped the team tally 62 species in 9 hours of effort!  Half the proceeds will support the club's activities for 2011 and the students will donate the other half to the Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy for restoration of habitat on Middle Bass Island.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Highlights for September 27th - October 3rd

This may be the last week for a large diversity of warblers along Ohio's north coast. Two strong cold fronts moved through the latter part of the past week which has apparantly sent many of the warbler species on their southerly way. Twenty warbler species were seen during the week including Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Myrtle, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Pine, Western Palm, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson's.
Highlights for the week were this Pine Warbler (PIWA), that we shared as a quiz bird on the BSBO Facebook Fan page, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, our second Purple Finch of the season, and a bird that gets everyone's heart pumping when we find it in the net....
A gorgeous Sharp-shinned Hawk!
Another major highlight was a Philadelphia Vireo (PHVI) with a band issued to another bander on it! This is what we call a foreign recovery. We have submitted the data to the Report a Band website, however, the data has not been received by the national computerized database from the bander yet. It was a shiny band, looking like it had been put on quite recently. This is one of the exciting parts of banding birds; an opportunity to trace a bird's migratory pathway, or at least a segment of it, adding valuable bits of migrational information about these feathered wonders. We will wait with anticipation for the origin of this PHVI and hope that another bander south of here has the great fortune of catching it again.

Bird speciation is turning over to the "October" dominants of Hermit Thrushes (HETH), White-throated Sparrows (WTSP), Kinglets (GCKI & RCKI), and Myrtle Warblers (MYWA). These will be replacing the late September leaders of Swainson's Thrush (SWTH), Gray-cheeked Thrush (GCTH), and Blackpoll Warbler (BLPW). Also, expect increases in Brown Creepers (BRCR), Winter Wren (WIWR), and a variety of sparrows.

Our first White-crowned Sparrows (WCSP) appeared this week. One of each age class:  a hatching year (HY) individual with its two-tone brown striped head.

And an after hatching year (AHY), with its striking black and white striped cap.  

The Purple Finch (PUFI) we captured was a hatching year bird which could not be sexed because of the lack of any red in its plumage. 

Purple Finches have a broad eye stripe and broader streaks on the breast than their cousins the House Finch (HOFI). The Bird Banding Manual, as part of finch identification, mentions that the PUFI will bite while the HOFI seldom does. How right they are.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers captured were all hatching year birds. Sapsuckers can be identified by their large wing bars. This one is a male with red on top of its head and the throat. The female only has red on its crown.

As a result of the low pressure system that is hovering over the northern part of the state, birds are staying low and provide good viewing. It is a good opportunity to get out and view the last of the warbler stragglers before they head for a warmer climate.

If you'd like to see BSBO's research and education teams living up to our tag line "teaming research with education to promote bird conservation," check us out on TV:  WNWO CHannel 24 Toledo!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Highlights for week Sept. 20th - 26th

White-throated Sparrows, Myrtle Warblers, Hermit Thrushes, and kinglets made their way to NW Ohio over the weekend in increasing numbers. According to some of our volunteers, last Friday the winds turned to the NW and made for a good fallout of migrants in Toledo area backyards. The migrant traps along the lake shore were good as well. Several Red-breasted Nuthatches (RBNU) were observed. Below is a female, identified by her gray cap.

Warbler species the past week totaled 19 species including Tennessee, Orange-crown, Nashville, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Myrtle, Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Mourning, Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson's.
This has been a great fall season in terms of numbers of birds banded. The Navarre station has seen more than twice the number of birds banded inthe entire fall 2009 season, and in the past decade, only 2001 has been greater at this stage of the migration. We'll discuss the particulars of migration and how it compares in a future post.

Highlights for the week included these attractive Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (RBGR). In basic plumage, one of the ways to differentiate sex in RBGR's is the color of their ventral-wing coverts as seen here. Females have yellowish wing linings while males are reddish.
The adult male (shown below) can be distinguished from young of the year males and all females by its black wings, including black primary coverts.
Banding provides valuable information on migrational timing and individual condition of migratory birds. It also provides opportunities to observe multiple species up close for comparison such as the four brown thrushes pictured below:

From left to right we have Veery (VEER), Gray-cheeked (GCTH), Hermit (HETH), and Swainson's (SWTH). Veery and Gray-cheeked Thrushes have no visible eye-ring. The Veery has a reddish-brown back and tail while the Gray-cheeked has an olive-brown back and tail. The Hermit and Swainson's have a visible eye-ring and a olive-brown back, but the Hermit has a contrasting reddish brown tail or "brown back and red tail configuration."

Pictured here are rear views (left to right) of Gray-cheeked, Veery, Hermit, and Swainson's.

And here is the front view, (left to right) Veery, Gray-cheeked, Swainson's, Hermit:
Note the clarity of spotting on the breasts of these birds. The Veery has blurry spots which is an added field characteristic to look for.

With cold fronts forecast for this week expect to see Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, Myrtle Warblers, and kinglets to arrive in the region in full force; maybe our first Rusty Blackbirds and Fox Sparrow as well. The last week of September and the first 10 days of October can hold the best diversity of the fall migration. As the leaves change, enjoy the changes of songbird migration as well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

August 30th - September 2nd

Posted by Julie Shieldcastle, Navarre Songbird Migration Station Supervisor:
This was a week of ups and downs for bird numbers with little fluctuation in temperature and humidity. It looks like this weekend could be a great time to go birding with the impending front that is coming through tomorrow (Sept. 3rd).

The past four days we saw or heard 17 species warblers with a total of 20 warbler species for the season. The 17 warblers include Tennessee, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Connecticut, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s, and Canada. We did not see or hear a Yellow, Mourning, or Prothonotary Warbler this week.

This season (to date) we have banded as many Black-and-white Warblers (13) as our total for last fall. Six were captured today (Sept. 2). This gives me an opportunity to show you both hatching year and adult (after hatching year) Black-and-whites (BAWW). Note the adult male has a black cheek (auricular) patch. Streaks on flanks are very black and distinct.

Here is another nice bird for the week:
A nice back shot showing you that it is one of the warblers with a yellow rump. This is a quiz bird.

Another warbler to be familiar with is this Bay-breasted Warbler (BBWA) with its lemon green head and back with little to no dark streaks and whitish throat and breast. The gray legs and feet help identify this as a BBWA from its cousin the Blackpoll Warbler.

Fall migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds has been sporadic in Navarre but five new birds were banded this week. Here is a hatching year male with its throat streaked with iridescent feathers. You can see the remnants of his yellow fleshy gape of its nestling stage.

A nice surprise on Wednesday, 09/01, was this Philadelphia Vireo (PHVI)
Its bright yellow throat and breast separate it from its cousin the Warbling Vireo.
All vireos have blue-gray legs and thick bills with a slight hook at the end.

Here is the side view of the quiz bird:
Note the thin beak in comparison to the small rounded head. Some use the yellow patch in the auricular and nape regions to assist in identification. However, it is not always apparent on a fall-plumaged bird. The bill shape versus the head and the streaks on the breast are the give aways for me. This is one of the warblers with yellow rumps, along with Magnolia, Palm, and Myrtle (the one people call the Yellow-rumped).

Answer to Bird Quiz is an adult female Cape May Warbler (CMWA). She has a faint remnant of the cheek patch (auricular) that the male exhibits in the spring. The fine streaking on the breast is a common characteristic for CMWAs. While the one in the photo above is a paler example, female CMWAs have two wing bars. A male has only one.

Be sure to stop by the Observatory this weekend (at the entrance to Magee Marsh) to see what warblers and other migrants are visiting the waterfall at our window on wildlife. For hours of operation and area birding and travel information visit BSBO HERE. Have a great birding weekend!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fall Migration Highlights for the Week of August 23-29th

Posted by Julie Shieldcastle, Navarre Songbird Migration Station Supervisor:
The first week of Migration Songbird Monitoring produced a few exciting highlights for the week. These included our first Yellow-billed Cuckoo for the year. We heard them occasionally during spring and summer but none were slow enough to get into the nets to be banded. Another highlight was the 18 warbler species captured in the first week! These included: Tennessee, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Prothonotary, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Connecticut, Mourning, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s, and Canada. It's worth noting that there has not been a Yellow Warbler (YWAR) seen or heard on the research site since mid-August. It appears that the resident YWARs have left the area.

Here are some pictures of a few early migrating warblers just in case you do not have a chance to get out and enjoy them:

Wilson's Warbler (WIWA)

Chestnut-sided Warbler (CSWA)

A weak front came through on Thursday and turned the winds to the NW which produced a small movement of birds on Friday and Saturday. The coming week looks to be good after Thursday when another front is slated to come through and temps are to drop to the low 80’s.

We were able to set up the five beach nets in addition to the main migration station nets this week. As usual, the beach nets caught higher numbers of Warbling Vireos (WAVI) than the nets inside the dike at the main station. Twelve out of the 14 WAVIs captured were caught in the five beach nets versus two in the 23 inside nets. This is a species that appears to be favoring habitats immediately along the lake shore instead of the larger older ridge habitat just a few yards inside the dike.

Warbling Vireo
Another highlight Saturday was capturing two Connecticut Warblers (CONW).

One was an adult male with its gray head and distinctive eye ring that really does stand out and go “Boing!" The other is a hatching year bird of unknown sex with a distinctive eye ring that looks similar to what a female CONW eye ring looks like. Hatching year birds generally can't be sexed with certainty. Even so, these are gorgeous birds no matter what their plumage!

Since Saturday was an exceptional day for warblers, I thought it would be great to take a group photo of eye ring warblers. The only one I wanted that was missing was the Chestnut-sided. Look at the photo of the CSWA above and you'll understand why it would have fit into the group photo. Can you identify all the eye ring birds? (Answer below).

Three other favorite birds of the week I would like to share are these:

Tennessee Warbler

Just look at the green on this bird! The TEWA is the only warbler I know that has this chartreuse green coloring. Note the white undertail coverts which distinguishes TEWA from its cousin the Orange-crowned Warbler (OCWA), which has yellow undertail coverts.

This bird was a perfect example of an adult female Black-throated Green Warbler (BTNW).

Here is the male warbler that remains black, blue, and white in every plumage, the Black-throated Blue Warbler.
Isn't he a handsome bird?! This particular bird is a hatching-year with his green-edged primary coverts.
Otherwise he looks like an adult male in coloration.

Enjoy the early fall migrating birds. There are still some Baltimore Orioles (BAOR) singing as well as flycatchers and you may catch a glimpse of the last of the golden Prothonotary Warblers before they head south!

Answer to the eye ring bird quiz: From left to right: Magnolia Warbler (MAWA), Nashville Warbler (NAWA), Ovenbird (OVEN), and Connecticut Warbler (CONW).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer Fledgling Photo Album

The Observatory's Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship M.A.P.S. projects for this year have come to a close. From this summer's host of birds banded, we thought it would be of interest to show some examples of juvenile plumaged birds. Some species can be identified outright because of their closeness in appearance to adults of their species while others are not as obvious. Sparrows in particular can test your mind.

Take this hatching year (HY) Song Sparrow (SOSP) with the extra spots/streaks on its breast. HY Song Sparrows look much different than the familiar adults where the streaks come together in the middle to form the distinct breast spot field mark best known with this species.

Juvenile feathers differ in quality and are often identified as "loosely textured," as in those on the breast of the SOSP above. Juvenile feathers have the barbs on their shaft arranged farther apart creating the loosely textured appearance.

Hatching Year (HY) Grasshopper Sparrow (GRSP)
Note the loosely textured breast feathers.
Below you can see one of the best field characteristics of a GRSP: its flat head. Aren't the colors on this bird beautiful?! This individual was captured in the wooded marshes of our Navarre Marsh research station, not exactly the grassland habitat typical for this species, so you cannot always predict what habitat a bird may use.

Take a look at this confusing hatching year Chipping Sparrow (CHSP)
HY "Chippers" have a streaked breast, much different than the completely
plain breast of the adult.
By the time October rolls around, this bird will have lost the streaks on the breast and will resemble the winter plumaged adults.

Hatching Year Eastern Towhee (EATO)
Note the typical juvenile sparrow spots or streaks. However, there are other characteristics defining this bird as a hatching year bird. Eye color on this bird is a muddy red, where an adult EATO's eyes would be ruby red. This bird also has a visible yellow gape where the upper and lower mandible (bill) come together on the skull. Yellow gape is not a single good determining factor in concluding a hatching year bird as there are some species which continue to have a
yellowish gape as an adult.

This hatching year Marsh Wren (MAWR) will undergo
two molts before next spring.
Replacing many of its feathers twice is an expensive energy endeavor, but this is what evolution has designed in order to maintain its feathers in the rough wetland habitats. Most birds only undergo a partial molt in late winter, replacing their body and contour feathers but not their flight feathers. You can see the juvenile feather structure and the presence of a gape on the bird above. However, wrens usually keep this fleshy gape throughout their lives.

The back of this HY Marsh Wren (MAWR) lacks the
characteristic dark triangle of the adult.
It is too dark in coloration to be a Sedge Wren (SEWR) and this bird shows
the faint eyebrow that MAWR exhibits.

Take a look at this Blue Jay (BLJA) with the same loosely textured
juvenile feathers and fleshy gape.

Some birds, like this Eastern Wood-Pewee (EAWP), are not as obviously different
in their juvenile plumage from the adults.
Note the buffy coloration of the wing bars indicating a HY. Pewees and Empidonax flycatchers possess this HY characteristic in fall.

Body molt in birds occurs in feather tracts that occur longitudinally down their breast and back. It is apparent here on this molting HY Northern Cardinal (NOCA).

You can determine the sex of a NOCA once this molt begins. Note also the dark bill coloration which assists in determining it as a HY bird.

This HY Yellow Warbler (YWAR) is molting but still shows the whitish downy feathers down the center of its breast from its juvenile plumage.

Eye color, spotted breasts, loosely textured feathers, over accentuated gape, and lighter or darker bill coloration are good indicators of HY birds.

Here are a few for you to identify!

Well, how did you do? If you answered: Gray Catbird (GRCA), Brown Thrasher (BRTH), and American Robin (AMRO), then you know your youngsters!

There is no quiet time for the bird bander. With summer breeding bird surveys safely in the books, we will be starting fall migration soon. This will be an important fall as we watch for potential population ramifications following last spring's low bird numbers. BSBO will keep you informed of migration from every perspective. Follow us here on the Bander's Blog, on the BSBO research pages, and on Kenn Kaufman's Birding the Crane Creek - Magee Birding, for all the latest information on fall migration.